June 5, 2013

Discerning Between “I Want Them to Be Okay” & “I Need Them to Be Okay so I Can Feel Okay.”

Photo: brieuc_s

You Want the Best for Others…but Why?

Clients often share with me intense concern for their loved ones or friends who are struggling in some way. There’s a very natural and positive side to wanting those around us to be well and succeed, and I celebrate that. But there’s often an element of Learned Distress at play, also.

Learned Distress is the feeling we all absorbed early in life that there’s something wrong with us being just the way we are. This negative feeling becomes the source of our negative moments and situations, and it is largely the basis for the survival mechanism we use to move through life. Learned Distress can be very demanding; it can make us feel like things have to be a certain way for us to survive. Sometimes, that “things have to be a certain way” feeling can extend to those close to us.

I see this often with parents. Naturally, they want their children to do well in life. But when I start digging into their concerns, I often find that the parent feels that their own survival is threatened somehow if their child isn’t the ideal. If the child, say, isn’t doing well in school, the parent fears that they haven’t been the ideal parent and is embarrassed that people around them will think they’ve made parenting mistakes. Elements of competition can also come in here, when children of their friends or colleagues appear to be doing better than their own children.

Can you see how this is separate from their direct concern for their child’s welfare?

This happens with friends and spouses or partners, too. Concern for someone goes beyond the realm of “I want them to be OK,” to, “I need them to be OK so that I can feel OK.” This is an issue I’ve grappled with personally in all kinds of relationships. There’s often a fine line, but I know I’ve crossed it when I am feeling more riled up about my loved one’s situation than they are, themselves.

Whether this is happening for me or one of my clients, the antidote is tapping into our own well-being, the core of who we are. It’s the part of ourselves that we can rely on for our lives to be good, no matter what is happening around us. The more Learned Distress we unlearn in the realm of “things have to be a certain way,” the more we feel that things really are OK, just as they are. And because how we feel about being human is the automatic, generating force behind every moment of our lives, this good feeling generates situations and moments that really are OK and feel good to us.

Another wonderful benefit of this shift from Learned Distress to well-being is that if we are meant to offer some kind of support to our loved ones, the gift we have to offer will often surface effortlessly. Instead of trying to control the other person and make them behave the way that we’re comfortable with, ideas or resources will often pop up that give us ways to support them in allowing their own well-being to spring forth. And, we will feel more able to offer them support without feeling attached to the outcome.

Have you ever noticed that your concern for a loved one was actually more about how you feel than about them? It’s sometimes tricky to discern, but being able to relate to others from our well-being instead of our Learned Distress is always a win-win situation.


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Ed: Brianna Bemel

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